“Sing the deer dear song,” my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter said, early this morning.

She has a cold, and wanted me to sing, “You Are My Sunshine” but with the phrase “dear deer” standing in for “Sunshine.”  (More on our familiar variant, “dear deer,” in a moment.)  No doubt she was seeking comfort in the song I used to sing to her when she was smaller.

The writing of the song “You are my sunshine” is (questionably?) attributed to Oliver Hood.  But according to family legend, my grandmother’s uncle (does that make him my great-great uncle?) Herman C. Becker actually wrote the song.

Great-great uncle Herman was a composer, creating, allegedly, the words and music for “You Are My Sunshine.”  My great-aunt Evelyn recalled making fun of him as he played the song on the piano, because it was so silly.  Herman sent the manuscript  to a music publisher in Chicago (or possibly New York) and never heard anything back.

Until, hearing the song on the radio, my ancestors learned of the supposed rip-off.

Decades later, I sing the song to my child as she’s going to sleep.  My daughter substitutes beloved friends’ names in place of “Sunshine,” or, created in a sillier moment of wordplay, one which Herman C. Becker might have appreciated, referring to the dead deer carcass on the hiking trail across the street (last autumn’s flattening lump of roadkill that we referred to as “deer body” in a first attempt to explain death to the child) she begs me to sing our private lyrics:

“You are my deer dear, my only deer dear, you make me happy, when skies are grey, you’ll never know deer dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my deer dear away.”

I don’t know if she would spell it “deer dear,” reverse it to “dear deer,” or, in simple repetition, choose “deer deer.”

How many generations have been lulled by this song?  And wooed?  To whom does belong?  Is there a point after which the notion of ownership fades?

No one can deny it’s our song.

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